By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC, Nov. 15, 2018 –

Imagine the following scene: There are bright balloons, a delicious cake and a room full of happy friends celebrating your child’s birthday.  As each of the birthday gifts is unwrapped, you hold your breath and wait for your child to say, “Thank you!”

It can be so disheartening when those words aren’t said without a reminder or “the look” from mom or dad.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t necessarily come naturally to young children.  It is normal and developmentally appropriate for younger children to be focused on themselves during their early years.

However, as children grow and their world becomes bigger, their ability to appreciate others and show gratitude becomes larger. Parents can help build their children’s awareness of gratefulness and teach them to demonstrate a grateful attitude. Listed below are some helpful tips.

  • Teach your child the simple but important practice of saying “please” and “thank you.”
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to catch your child doing something thoughtful! Acknowledge and praise what they did. Your kind words will set a good example for your child to use toward someone else.
  • Model your own gratefulness. Children will notice when their parent is grateful for a beautiful day, a door being held open, or a thoughtful gift from a friend.
  • Make it a daily or weekly habit to discuss what you are grateful for as a family. During dinner, in the car or before bed are great times to talk. Have each family member share one or two things they are thankful for and why. To begin the conversation it might be helpful to say, “What or who are you thankful for at home, school, or in the community?”
  • Foster experiences that allow children to help others. Volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter are great opportunities. Developing a list of random acts of kindness to check off together would be a fun way to teach children how good it feels to help others. Encourage your kids to identify the emotions they experience (happy, proud, helpful, nice, etc.).
  • Identify “helpers” with your child. Talk about the role of police, firefighters, military, teachers, and doctors. Discuss how each helper is valuable and do something to show gratitude toward them.  A simple note of appreciation or delivering cookies is a great way to say thank you!
  • Focus on sharing experiences instead of buying materialistic items. Leave the phone on the charger, turn off the television and enjoy the company of family. Use compliments and praise the strengths of each family member.
  • Get children involved in purchases. When your child wants the newest toy or electronic item, offer the opportunity to earn it by completing more chores or saving money to go toward the purchase.  The memory of working for it will hopefully create better maintenance of the item and a sense of ownership.
  • Engage older teens in discussions about world events. They are old enough to have their own thoughts and opinions about big issues that are happening. Talking about what is important to them and how it shapes their view on the world can be a great lesson in gratitude.

Start early and offer many opportunities to help children express and practice gratitude.  Teaching children how to express gratitude is a skill that will help them throughout their life!